Addressing the Safety of Acupuncture

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Addressing the Safety of Acupuncture

In clinical practice, we do come across customers asking us questions regarding acupuncture treatment. In this Part 1 article, we will focus on addressing the following queries, so that you, our clients and patients, can have a peace of mind and better understanding on what to expect during your scheduled acupuncture session, especially if it is going to be your first experience with acupuncture.

  1. Is it safe?

Acupuncture is safe when done under a trained and licensed acupuncture practitioner as the following is taken into consideration

  • Sterilized single-use needles
  • Disinfection of selected needling site with alcohol swab
  • Differentiate and incorporate ideal direction and depth of needling
  • Anatomical understanding to avoid injury when working with points close to major organs, blood vessels, nerves, abdomen and thoracic cavity
  1. What are the risks?

Adverse events related to acupuncture are constantly and controversially discussed in both scientific literature and mass media

For example international accord exists that exacerbation of symptoms represents an adverse event, because symptom burden increases. However, momentary worsening of symptoms followed by long-term improvements can be interpreted as a so-called “Healing Crisis” in Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM).2

An international agreement is still lacking for local reactions of acupuncture, such as minute bleeding upon needle withdrawal, aching, soreness or flare around the needle sites. These reactions are interpreted as beneficial signs in acupuncture and have been linked to neurophysiological mechanism of acupuncture.3

The most frequent and avoidable severe adverse events for acupuncture are pneumothorax, and strong cardiovascular or vasovagal reactions. These incidences occur when needling safety is overlooked.4

Common side effects from acupuncture includes soreness, tension, heaviness and minor bleeding or bruising at the site of needles insertion. Some may feel a sense of tiredness after treatment, especially when cupping technique is incorporated to the treatment.

For individuals who fall into the category below, risk of complication may arise:

  • Have a bleeding disorder or on blood thinners: chances of bleeding or bruising from the needles is increased.
  • Have a pacemaker in place: This applies for acupuncture treatment that involves the use of mild electrical pulses to the needles (electro-acupuncture). Interference with the pacemaker’s operation will occur.
  • Pregnant: A selected few of acupuncture points and techniques are thought to stimulate labor, which may result in a premature delivery. These points should be avoided during pregnancy apart from simulative needling techniques.
  1. How long will an acupuncture session be?

Needles remain in place for 30-40 minutes. Depending on patient’s condition and symptoms, incorporation of cupping treatment may lengthen out the overall session by 10-15minutes. Please do inform us beforehand if you are in a hurry or need to leave the clinic at an earlier time so that we, as your acupuncturist, can ensure that you reap the most benefits out of your session.

If you are interested in having an acupuncture session, please reach out to our insurance team to check in on your benefits. We look forward to greeting you with a TCM evaluation before commencing your first acupuncture session. See you soon!

  1. Bäumler P, Zhang W, Stübinger T, Irnich D. Acupuncture-related adverse events: systematic review and meta-analyses of prospective clinical studies. BMJ Open. 2021 Sep 6;11(9): e045961.
  2. White A, Boon H, Alraek T, et al. Reducing the risk of complementary and alternative medicine (cam): challenges and priorities. Eur J Integr Med 2014; 06:404-8
  3. Zhu H. Acupoints initiate the healing process. Med Acupunct 2014; 26:264-70.
  4. Chan, M.W.C., Wu, X.Y., Wu, J.C.Y. et al. Safety of Acupuncture: Overview of Systematic Reviews. Sci Rep 7, 3369 (2017).